The Paris Agreement at 5: A Global Commitment

Photo: United Nations

This Saturday, December 12, the United Nations and the U.K. will host a Climate Ambitions Summit to commemorate the Paris Agreement’s fifth anniversary and encourage countries to commit to more ambitious actions. This week ODP will take a deep dive into the Paris Agreement — today we look at the international achievement of the commitment. 

By Ashira Morris, ODP Contributing Writer

When the Paris Agreement was ratified in 2015, it marked the first truly global agreement to address human-caused climate change. The agreement required 195 countries to come together and hammer out issues that historically plagued climate negotiations. The final document overcame the separate camps of countries created by the Kyoto Protocol (developed vs developing) and shifted the narrative to a global commitment. The Paris Agreement required each country to agree to certain common tenants but allowed flexibility for them to create their own plans for reducing emissions, depending on national circumstances. The Atlantic heralded it as the “most important piece of international diplomacy in years.”

Why this Matters: It’s not an overstatement to say how we tackle global climate change determines the future health and stability of the planet. The Paris Agreement brought together countries like the U.S., which had historically pumped lots of carbon into the atmosphere, with rapidly industrializing nations. Despite its complexity, the Agreement was one of the most quickly ratified international agreements in history.

Six Climate Issues the Paris Tackled: After the agreement was finalized, The Atlantic broke down how it addressed six key questions about how to take on the climate crisis. 

  • Temperature Target: The final agreement holds countries to limiting global temperature rise to 2 degrees C (3.6 F) above pre-industrial levels while recognizing the importance of pursuing a more ambitious 1.5 degrees.

To Go Deeper: read the full text in Article 2, Section 1.

  • The End of Fossil Fuel: To compromise between island nations calling for the necessary immediate end to fossil fuel use and oil-producing countries, the final language settled on ending fossil fuel use as soon as possible. After 2050, emissions should be net zero: any greenhouse gas emissions balanced out with carbon “sinks” like forests. 

To Go Deeper: read the full text in Article 4, Section 1.

  • Climate Finance: The Paris Agreement itself, which is legally binding, doesn’t set out requirements for who pays the costs of climate change, or for how much any country should contribute. However, the accompanying Paris Decision does say that it’ll take $100 billion annually for mitigation and adaptation. 

To Go Deeper: read the full text in Item 115 of the Paris Decision.

  • Stocktaking: The agreement set 2023 as the first year that nations should take stock of their climate commitments and emission reduction targets. It also says that countries should “update and enhance” individual plans every five years.

To Go Deeper: read the full text in Article 14.

  • Transparency: There was no outside, third-party agency established to hold countries accountable to meeting their reduction goals, but countries are held to a “common framework of transparency.”

To Go Deeper: read the full text in Article 13.

  • Loss and Damage: The climate crisis is already bringing about loss and damage — we don’t have to look farther than this year’s raging wildfires or inundating typhoons. The Paris Agreement acknowledges ways that developed countries can help others around the world, like investing in emergency preparedness, but stops short of climate reparations. 

To Go Deeper: read the full text in Article 8.

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